Rising Temperatures, Rising Stress: The Climate Anxiety Dilemma and Its Impact on Gen Z in the Workplace

November 30, 2023

“APCO Intern, Olivia Curreri, co-authored this piece.”

Coming of age in a world on the brink of climate crisis, Generation Z stands burdened by the weight of climate anxiety. As Gen Z joins other generations in the formidable challenge of salvaging a warming planet within a limited timeframe, it is crucial for corporations to recognize the negative impact of climate anxiety on both employee engagement and productivity—two vital elements for a thriving workplace.

Climate anxiety, characterized by psychological distress and fear associated with climate change, is not abstract for many generations; both the United Nations and the American Psychological Association have expressed concerns about the increasing global risk of climate change-induced mental health issues, which can have a profound impact on everyone’s well-being and work performance. Specifically for Gen Z, a 2021 global study revealed that 45% of young people aged 16 to 25 reported that climate anxiety was affecting their daily lives.

Gen Z’s heightened awareness of climate change is partly attributed to being digital natives, as their strong social media literacy keeps them connected to global events, including climate disasters. This exposure, and the warnings that the corporate world is not acting swiftly enough on climate issues, have led to feelings of frustration and disillusionment among Gen Z. As a result, these emotions have had an impact on their career decision-making. A KPMG survey found that 20% of Gen Z job seekers rejected offers due to companies’ perceived misalignment with their ESG values, highlighting Gen Z’s willingness to prioritize environmental and social values over personal economic considerations. And while the emphasis on purpose is significant, it can also result in reduced job satisfaction and motivation among Gen Z workers when employers do not adequately address climate change.

Additionally, the push to address climate change sometimes blurs the line between work and personal life, as employees may feel compelled to engage in environmental advocacy both during and outside of work hours. This can lead to work-life imbalance and potential burnout, as this advocacy is often seen as another form of “work.” Gen Z sees the consequences of climate change as imminent, and with a limited window to mitigate the crisis, how employers address this emergency will significantly impact workplace productivity.

Unpacking climate anxiety’s impact on employees is crucial for businesses to promote workplace productivity. Ignoring this issue can lead to decreased employee loyalty, increased turnover and talent acquisition challenges. Companies have a unique opportunity to foster a supportive environment that alleviates climate anxiety among Gen Z workers by advancing their corporate social responsibility goals and facilitating sustainability initiatives. To effectively address climate anxiety and enhance workplace productivity, corporations must adopt a multifaceted approach that prioritizes both employee well-being and corporate culture through climate action.

  • First and foremost, corporations must create a climate strategy that aligns with UN standards. Corporations must utilize science-based emission targets to guide their decarbonization efforts. Since 2019, more than 600 companies from across the world have committed to making changes in line with the SBTi’s Business Ambition for 1.5°C campaign. Companies must create clear, concrete and actionable plans for decarbonization to avoid greenwashing claims and display to their internal and external audiences their dedication to sustainability.
  • Corporations should set clear sustainability goals, track progress, celebrate milestones and recognize employees contributing to sustainability initiatives. By implementing these recommendations, companies can create a workplace culture that mitigates the real effects of climate anxiety, enhances employee well-being and, in turn, boosts workplace productivity. This approach fosters a resilient and sustainable workforce, positioning companies for success in an era where climate anxiety is a defining concern for a growing portion of their workforce.
  • Finally, education, communication and employee involvement play a pivotal role; organizations should offer climate resources, establish cross-functional sustainability teams and maintain open channels for employees to share feedback related to climate anxiety and sustainability efforts. Leadership should lead by example, visibly championing sustainability practices and incorporating sustainability into the company’s mission, vision and values.

Tackling climate anxiety goes beyond addressing the concerns of one generation; it involves acknowledging your company’s role in fighting the climate crisis and uniting generations to collaboratively seek solutions. A supportive community is paramount for building collective resilience; by building workplaces where purpose and profit align, companies can help ease climate anxiety for all employees, further engage Gen Z and boost productivity through corporate climate action. In doing so, companies are laying the foundation for a more resilient and sustainable workforce that will leave a lasting positive impact for generations to come.

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